Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hwaet! The Power of a Written Word. Beowulf and the ABC's

Tree fall. Was there sound.

Lack your own writing system? Others steal your stories, your history, redo it with theirs. Spin opportunity; or oblivion.

Lack of identity equals no self. Here, look at who and what best survives intact: oral tradition; written tradition; combination; and what to do with the teller's or the scribe's "improvements" for entertainment or other purposes.

What is history, and how do we know it. If content of a group's own culture cannot now be retrieved and observed; was there never value there to begin with? If the tree falls in an empty forest, is there sound.


What. Hush? Settle down, people? Watch out? A sneeze perhaps?

The written word brings immorality to an idea, even if we do not know a precise meaning. Writing can give context, and form. Here, a written saga follows the insistent Hwaet. We can figure out a meaning for that context. Without the written saga, however, the idea of Hwaet would be lost with the death of the last bard who knew it.

Compare the oral saga of the time. The heroic tale. Oral tradition.

Cultures then and now can use oral tradition to expand and thrive, in their time, when they are in isolation with themselves. But unless they have their own writing to memorialize it, a clash with another culture with writing distorts them. Subsumes. We are left with other people's stories about them, that tell us what the story writer wants us to know, what was important subjectively to the story writer's culture, not necessarily what was so from the view of the non-writers.

Who is a "historian"? Anyone? We get course-corrections from archeology and anthropology, to expose the flaws in the "history"; but without the written history, the entire culture can dwindle away from notice, until something gets put down.

Examples here:

  • Celts. All over Europe, would you believe.
  • Aleuts, Eskimos Inuit
  • Aboriginals
  • Women - keep her iggerunt, don't tell her story. Identity theft. Take her face. Praise the Lord and pass the burka to her. That is not irreverent, but a reference to current events in France, this an update to earlier post here, at://
  • Vikings had an alphabet, the "futhark", with 16 letters, known as runes. These were scratch marks carved in wood or stone, straight and diagonals, in differing combinations. Late Viking era: they wrote on calfskin or sheepskin. See :// Do an Images search. Vikings went everywhere there was a river, a waterway - Europe, Mediterranean, Russia, trading, raiding, settling, conquering. Did he runes also convey cultural history? Our understanding is that the cultural history was oral, the mechanics of trading, getting around, used runes for recording, marking? Is that so?
Trieste: Eskimo, Inuit, Aleut Influence. The kayak

At least the Inuit / Eskimo and Aleuts can brag of their cultural influence in Trieste and the world. Who needs writing when you can kayak? See Short History of the Kayak at ://

Then, again, if they had been in a position to develop writing (instead of trying to survive against the clime plus all of us), they could have patented the design and owned the world.


Begins this old Saxon-recorded epic poem.
about Danish-Swedish heroics.

"Hwaet! We Gardena in geardagum,
bpeodcyninga, bprym gefrunon,
hu oa aebpelingas, ellen fremedon,
Oft Skyld Skeffing sceabpena bpreatum."

Beowulf. Bright Wolf. Appreciate the power of the written word, the immortality it conveys, so long as the word as represented survives.

The oral word depends on being remembered. When the last bard dies, so dies the song, unless someone wrote it down.

Here find the poem, Beowulf, itself and its structure, at :// Identified as verse indeterminate Saxon. These quoted here are the first four lines of 3,183 lines - fair use. Read this aloud in all ignorance, but loudly and with gestures. Then think of the richness we have lost, as history rolls over so many who had not the written word to mark their passing.

What does the "Hwaet!" mean. We do not know, but it survived anyway because it was written down. We can guess, from context, that it is a way to get people's attention, get them to settle down. Or is it a warning. Or a statement of exception: did something come before, and this is the "but".

A written word. More powerful than the spear. If Aleuts, Inuit, Women Worldwide had access to and time for the ink, the parchment, the skins, the tablets, the leisure time to develop their own written language and not be beaten for it, we would have to HWAET no more. Our and their histories would be in book and Hollywood. Women's Bollywood become Wollywood.

Writing lasts. From earliest times, lines on rock, characters on scroll, on clay tablet. The animal skin, scraped, dried, prepared, the inky substance available. The climate and topography that permitted some to step aside from survival needs, to other matters such as writing, preserving thought other than in oral tradition.

Hwaet. It is still a gripping sound.

It sounds so much like our "wait" that we tend to think it means that.

It is more. Or less. We don't know. But it survived. And we pay attention. Is it, "Hark?" or, "Listen up!" Who knows, but its recording, in a form that did not disintegrate, gives it life as eternal as the number of times it is read and heard and remembered and written again.

See the magic of the first word of this old English epic poem, with its setting in Denmark and parts of Sweden, and audience in Britain. Say it, loud. HWAET!

The Danish royal family is there, with a significant number of names matching historical fact. Some of the events date to 523 AD, with references to raids in Frankish lands - the basic groups were the Geats (probably Goths) and the Danes, with the Geats parts perhaps more historically accurate. Beowulf himself is probably fiction, with characteristics familiar in Germanic legend.

The kings of the Angles (England) look accurate and historical, but much spun around them and their deeds. Legend added dimension, finding royal roots was important to the English, more so than actual step by step geneologies. See ://

At least, with Beowulf, there was written language. Much has been lost of this great first Saxon saga poem, and there are many translations. See:// They are all available to you there. Skip the movie, and read - start with ://


We use one of the translations. Beowulf attained immortality only by accident, not necessarily by merit; except that people liked it enough to write it down. Immortal because of location, in an area of cultural activity and interaction, neighbors' interest, and the written word.

Is it really immortal? No. It gets messed with. Why is Beowulf lately arrived in Hollywood, as a big film, with the lipped actress, arising a la Sports Illustrated in a swim suit from the primordial swamp. She rises because somebody wrote about her. And she looks like that, and does what she does, because somebody thought the original should be improved upon for entertainment and marketing purposes. Ah, the bastardy of profit motives. What we got was not Beowulf at all on the silver screen. Which gets believed? The film.

Save Beowulf. Read it.

Celts, Vikings

Celts. See Ancient Celtic History at ://
Now, digress a bit about the written word.

FREEDOM! Another iconic word. William Wallace, who stirred his ragtag Scots peasant "army" at Stirling Castle, against the fauncy Brits, was probably of Celtic stock, as were the rabble around him. Would he be remembered as well if somone had not written down sometime, what he said than. Freedom! Even Mel Gibson got the picture. FN 1

William Wallace Memorial, Stirling, Scotland; and Dan

And why does William Wallace's "Freedom" echo still, a la Hollywood and now a memorial at Stirling, Scotland. See and hear Mel Gibson on that topic, at ://

Oral and written - both kinds of stories get messed up, of course. Variations, errors from the original, "improvements," -- there is no truth, just the teller's assessment and presentation? Meet some cultures here, starting with Beowulf's - the non-writing events in early Denmark-Sweden area, saga written down later by proto-Saxons.

Was William Wallace a Celt? Probably in root, although Wallace was centuries after the peaking of the Celts.

Vikings. See History of the Vikings at :// These were two different groups; blooming at different times; overlapping with descendants and territories; but neither had written histories, alphabets that they developed for themselves. Others wrote about them; and the Vikings, being later in time, soon did their own.

Each had pictograms and runes, but runes and pictograms do not convey histories as does a writing with sentences, full thoughts. Once written down, then other people pay attention to other cultures' songs, sagas, stories. Otherwise, when the people die, get dissipated, overcome, their stories die with them. Celts? Gonzo. Vikings? Much more available.


If only they could have patented the kayak.

Why are the Aleuts devalued. They are devalued because they could be devalued, and were, once cultures clashed. Pragmatic, not merit-based. Read about them through the Manataka American Indian Council site, at :// They have been on the Aleutian Islands for centuries, with sensitivities and spoken words and an intricate system of survival in a hostile environment. They survived, tamed what they could; but had no defenses to takeovers. They have lost 90% of their numbers, thanks to Russians and us.

Their way of life got in the way of others' economic development.

No "freedom" for them. Without a written history, even what they and their heroic deeds were disappears. Finally, in the 19th Century, a Russian alphabet, the Cyrillic, was used to put down
Aleut matters. The name Aleut means community, or host. They call themselves "The People," see :// The Red Book of the People: linguistically, Aleuts have similar roots with Tatars, the Abkhaz, Kurds, Lithuanian Tatars, Central Asian and Georgian and Mountain and Crimean Jews (!), Turkmen. Their arrival on the Aleutian Islands was 10,000 years ago. See the Redbook site.

Aleuts related linguistically to Jewish roots? Now to look up the Jewish roots listed in the Redbook site. If the paleo-Hebrew Old Testament was -scratchedwritten and rooted from the Sumerian texts some 3000 BC (is that so?) -- need to know more.

And the Inuit, the Eskimos to some, see Inuit Culture at:// See also Native Americans at ://

The bottom line: no clay, no ink, no for spare animal skins, no words, no time for other than survival - no indispensable people - you lose.

Learning about Eskimos, Aleuts. Resources.

1. Life in that environment. We can offer is a book list for one-on-one education. See "White Fang," by Jack London, at If you have no time to read, go to Sparknotes at

2. Religious decimation. The Russians were there before us, see Aleut Religion and Expressive Culture, at :// Aleuts are Russian Orthodox now, we understand, but we are interested in what the beliefs were before the cultural takeover.

3. The toxic white-out. Our heritage to them: Profits, guns, alcohol and disease. And Sarah.

Politics at work.

Time for this site for the unsung to sing for them. Maybe no recourse. Life is tough. See Palin ignore Shishmaref Village. At least, we can take a moment to remember and mourn. See Arctic Change, Human and Economic Indicators, Shishmaref Village, at ://

Unwritten language? Imagine the voting rights problems. How do drowning towns get attention, sympathy? Survival of culture with writing. Without, back of the bus.

Sarah? Are you home to your people yet? Does our governmental structure value indigenous people who do not write.

Update yourself at Joy of Equivocating, Voting Rights, Palin; and Joy of Equivocating, America's Heritage. Scroll down to Shishmaref, the ignored village inundated with flooding, part of global warming possibly, but still no funding to relocate reasonably. Sarah? Sarah? Stop shopping! Sarah!

The Eskimo.

Same, we think, as the term "Inuit" - but perhaps not. Or are Eskimos more toward Labrador? Have to check.

An example of a long-lived culture, brilliant accommodations to environmental extremes. The Eskimo are genius in developing skills for survival, hunting, how to clothe, shelter themselves, heal their sick, organize societies for the protection of groups.

Where are the written records of their past? There was no ink. They lived beyond the tree lines. Beyond where people grow flax, and papyrus, and use bark for writing and making surfaces to write upon. Stones for scratching on other stones? Stones, great slabs, disappeared under snow and ice. Find some kind of dyes, but then what to etch on. Every animal skin was needed for survival. How to set some aside, scrape and make into a writing surface, and write what? The tradition of communication was an oral one. No room for extra baggage. There was the need to move on, follow warmth, follow herds. No way to make great monuments - the melting! Nothing would last.

How many cultures did not survive and left no trace. The idea here is that a culture's not producing written records or written language may suggest a less developed whatever (this is for the anthropologists) but for some, it reflects simple environmental limitations.

And the contribution those cultures can make to our human condition and understanding of ourselves diminishes with each death of each elder who Knew.

Cultures whose ways survive, do not survive necessarily because they have anything special to contribute to the human condition, or because they won in a great battle.

It may be only that they or somebody around has the equivalent of

1) ink,
2) rocks for scratching,
3) spare animal skins, and/ or
4) a climate / environment that permits extra people to do other than survival-activities. In their surroundings, if not with them, emerged \5) the written word.

See any film you can find about the Aleuts and other Native Americans in Alaska. Sensitivities, knowledge of an environment, values and priorities. Look at 1740- a date commonly accepted for white intervention in Aleut and other geographic indigenous Alaskan culture, with the white diseases, the guns, the white profit-motive, the alcohol inconsistent with metabolisms perhaps. Then fast-forward to a broken present.

Read any book written by those fortunate enough to make meaningful contact with cultures that blended with their environments rather than building conquest cultures, and before the white-out. The literal White-Out.

To survive, you also need

The white man's diseased decimated millions of people around the world. Broad generalization. But is it so? Immunity includes the chemical balances and imbalances needed to process alcohol in the body. Turn them into addicts, as we did, and then say in a disparaging way, another drunk Indian. Or Eskimo. Or Aleut. Pacific Islanders. Venereal diseases, smallpox, our culture took over by death by disease, thanks Cook and Columbus and progeny.

Women in Our Religious and Cultural Heritage -
Salome, for example

What role is there for the written word, unique to a group? How else does identity, the story of a group, survive. How about a group within a group: can their story be highjacked by manipulation of their common language.

There, too, the written word is vital - else why would there be such effort to erase it, as to angles of subgroups. Why the determination to subsume subject groups, to the larger whole's ideology. Theology, ideology, cultural hierarchies, ensure that what might have been written by or about the value of the subgroup is not included in canon where the words must fit an ideology.


1. Consider Salome. See Martin Luther's Stove, James' Christmas Prequel, Infancy Gospel. Let's elect to believe that the version of the Gospel of James, the M.R. James translation by happenstance (choose other translations of course) is accurate. Assume that it represents the one of the 130 copies of the Gospel of James that is closest to the version of the original teller. There are always dogma inserts and additives as copier after copier made copies. Still, read the story where the character Salome appears. Do it aloud. It helps to make it live.

The meaning emerges:

Suddenly, a woman is the first determiner as to virginity of Mary (although even that is not clear - did Salome's hand shrivel or go afire before she could even do that?

Interpretations depend on your version - as with any early accounts, the versions number in the hundreds often. And a woman is the first to be healed by the miraculous powers of the infant, and a woman is the first to recognize the infant as King; and the first to worship.

Fair use of verse XX1: Salome, a woman of pedigree -

XX. 1 And the midwife went in and said unto Mary: Order thyself, for there is no small contention arisen concerning thee. Arid Salome made trial and cried out and said: Woe unto mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God, and lo, my hand falleth away from me in fire. And she bowed her knees unto the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob: make me not a public example unto the children of Israel, but restore me unto the poor, for thou knowest, Lord, that in thy name did I perform my cures, and did receive my hire of thee. 3 And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared, saying unto her: Salome, Salome, the Lord hath hearkened to thee: bring thine hand near unto the young child and take him up, and there shall be unto thee salvation and joy. 4 And Salome came near and took him up, saying: I will do him worship, for a great king is born unto Israel. And behold immediately Salome was healed: and she went forth of the cave justified. And Io, a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell none of the marvels which thou hast seen, until the child enter into Jerusalem. (emphases supplied)
See Gnosis Library, at ://

Are we surprised that Rome banned the whole thing, with that in it? A woman as "first" in those pivotal theological areas, in an emerging gender-centric religion where women were zip? In the absence of the Word, who speaks for her.

Are we surprised that noone cares about the fate of the indigenous Alaskans in the absence of the Word?

Meet, by accident, women. Hello to people like Salome. See Martin Luther's Stove, Transformative Use of Translation.

Never written about in her own right, but the name recurring enough to suggest the same person, perhaps, but we will never know. Disciple, model for the Roma patron saint Sara la Kali, see a gamut of possibilities, documentation diverted, at Nationmaster, one of our favorite encyclopedia survey sites, at ://


Women's stories were not told much; they were airbrushed out of emerging dogma so that a man could take over the role she had, perhaps.

Ironically, a culture of wordless women arose within an over-wordy culture of men. Think of the spin on powerful women - Cleopatra's asp - the Airbrush, the Suppression, the Propaganda directed against a gender. Not just unsung - denied - see Martin Luther's Stove at Martin Luther's Stove, Transformative Use of Translation, Gospel of James, Salome.

Salome, if only they educated girls in those days, gave them tablets and scratchers, or ink and scroll. You could have told your tale. Without it, we are left speculating. As usual. Life is tough. We like the Aleuts and the Inuit and the other historically wordless, lose. So we start over. Pass the word.

2. Consider the burka, how it grows

Theft of face. Theft of hair. Theft of identity. Theft of markers setting one human apart from another human. Who is that under there? All that matters is the form of what lies south of the equator. Theft of story, history, place. Would we know of Hind bint Rabi'a if she had lived under a burka? Could she have wielded her great sword. Would her story have survived. It almost didn't. Theft of history.


1. See the Aboriginals in the film, "Australia." The walkabout. See the boy of mixed heritage, raised on the white compound, but known as an Aboriginal. Then choosing that way, at least at the point that the movie ends, and the boy is still a child.

We should all be so lucky as to have an elder teach us the Ways. Even the Scots understand, perhaps because of their legacy of Wallace nd Robert the Bruce in mind, at ://

2. No written records. See the power of the oral tradition, and the tragedy becomes not the lack of writing, but the advantage taken by others because of that. Wipe out.

II. What Heroic People Were Left Behind
Because They Did Not / Could Not Write Themselves Down.

And nobody later did, either.

Ask about Aleuts. And the Inuit. The Celts. The Vikings. The Aborigines. We have archeology and anthropology about them, and some oral tradition may be left after the fracturing of contact with other cultures. We have what others recorded about them (with the agenda of the writer taking over, not the accuracy or objectivity of the statements). But these groups did not/ could not incorporate their own written word in their daily lives. How did they see themselves. There maybe runes, and pictograms, but not arising to the level of a written sentence. Is that so? All we have is what others wrote about them, or recorded of their sagas, if anything. Or recorded as "histories" to serve the purpose of the historian, centuries after events.

No comments: